turning point

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Turning Point:
The story of the bombing of Sterling Hall,
Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, 1970

Karleton Armstrong: Adam A.
Dwight Armstrong: Nathan A.
David Fine: Luke H-T.
Leo Burr: Justin L.
Sarah McBride: Miranda A.
Stephanie Baker Fassnacht: Brianna Z.
Policeman: Noah L.
Joe Elder: Kevin H-S.
Newscaster: Gabe S.
Protester #1: Delia A.
Protester #2: Marlena A.
Protester #3: Twila S.
Protester #4: Eli L.

Note: The events in this story are based on true events. Most of the people, with the exception of Sarah, are based on real people. The connection of the bombing to the Quakers, and the personalities of each person, were invented.

Act One

NEWSCASTER: Good evening, it’s January 3rd, 1970. No arrests yet in the vandalism at the Badger Ordnance works in Baraboo, where police suspect anti-war activists who they have dubbed the “New Year’s Gang.” In national news, bombing continued in Vietnam last night. French journalists counted 150 American casualties, but the American government put the number at 25. Nixon again denied that Cambodia was being bombed. Home in Madison, rioters threw rocks for the third night in a row at State Street and Layton Avenue, in spite of the snow and the cold. Have a safe New Year.
POLICEMAN: It’s hard keeping order in Madison, I tell you. This Vietnam War thing, you know. These students want to throw a brick or two, well, I’m getting sick of it! Between you and me, I’ll tell you something. Used to be, they’d go to University of Wisconsin, they’d get out of serving. But that’s not working any more. They’re calling everyone up. (points at audience). They’ll take you, and throw you in boot camp. Serves you right!

PROTESTER #1: Heck no, we won’t go! Stop the war! US out of Cambodia!
PROTESTER #2: 1, 2, 3, 4 what do you think we’re fighting for?
PROTESTER #3: US out of Vietnam! No more war! Stop the war now!
PROTESTER #4: 1, 2, 3, 4!
POLICEMAN: Get out of here! Git! Come on now! Out! (chases them out)

(enter LEO and SARAH)
LEO: Hey, don’t I know you from Chemistry class?
SARAH: Yeah, how did you do on that last test?
LEO: Not so well. But it doesn’t matter anyway. I’m probably going to die.
SARAH: What do you mean?
LEO: I’m worried about my draft number…I’m number 52.
SARAH: Oh, so you’ll go soon, won’t you?
LEO: Yeah, maybe September.
SARAH: Isn’t there some way out of it?
LEO: Yeah, cut off my toe, like my friend did. Or maybe come on to the draft officer…you know, pretend I’m gay.
SARAH: That won’t work, will it?
LEO: I don’t know. I’d try anything. I hate this war. I don’t want to die for what they’re doing. Every day you see it on tv…people dying, the government lying. Now they’re bombing Cambodia…but they’re lying about it!
SARAH: I don’t believe in this war either! They’re killing innocent civilians, and why? Because they think they know what’s best for Vietnam?
LEO: I feel like we have to do something about it, but I don’t know what.
SARAH: Well, I hope you don’t flunk Chemistry…that sure won’t help! See you tomorrow!
(they exit. Enter KARL and DAVID)
DAVID: Karl, have you heard the news? They’re using Army Math to help the Vietnam War effort! The pigs!
KARL: The university is just part of the whole system! That’s why I dropped out.
DAVID: You know, yesterday in my biology class, a bunch of guys came in and said, let’s go throw rocks down on State Street. And we did. Walked right out of class. The professor had to cancel.
KARL: Far out, man, did you throw rocks?
DAVID: Sure did.
KARL: Felt groovy, didn’t it? Did you hit anything?
DAVID: I hit that bank window, smashed it all over State Street. It felt good, actually. The pigs!
KARL: Right on, man. Power to the people. They started this war, not us. It’s going to be a revolution. And I’ll tell you what. We aren’t going to change things just by carrying signs.
(enter DWIGHT)
DWIGHT: Hear about the news? In the Daily Cardinal?
KARL: Yeah, the pigs! About Army Math, you mean?
DAVID: Yeah, they’ve been helping the government all along! I knew it! Off the pigs! Power to the people!
DWIGHT: Right on, man.
(they leave) (sign appears saying LAUNDROMAT. SARAH comes and folds laundry. STEPHANIE enters)
STEPHANIE: Sarah McBride! I haven’t seen you in twelve years! I used to babysit you!
SARAH: Stephanie Baker?
STEPHANIE: Well, it’s Stephanie Fassnacht now. I got married four years ago.
SARAH: Really? Congratulations! What does your husband do?
STEPHANIE: Robert? Oh, he’s a grad student. He does research on superconductivity. He’s one of these guys that walk around with a calculator in their shirt pocket, you know. But he’s pretty nice. We have a 3-year-old son and twin 1-year-old daughters. But they’re with their grandma now.
SARAH: Far out! Well, you got good practice babysitting me!
STEPHANIE: Actually, I think of you a lot. What have you been doing?
SARAH: Going to school mostly. Trying to pass Chemistry. Demonstrating against the war too. Actually, I met this guy in my Chemistry class, Leo, and I kind of like him…
SARAH: And he’s about to get drafted. So I’m trying to figure out how to help him.
STEPHANIE: Maybe he could join one of those religious groups. You know, like the Quakers or something. They don’t fight in wars.
SARAH: That’s a good idea. I’ll ask him. How do you find the Quakers?
STEPHANIE: Oh, you know Joe Elder? He’s a sociology professor. Just ask him. I’m sure you can find him on campus.
SARAH: It’s good to run into you, Stephanie. Let’s have coffee sometime!
STEPHANIE: OK, I promise! I’ll have you over this summer! (they leave)

Act Two

(In class. LEO and SARAH sit together. Nearby is an empty seat.)

LEO: I can’t concentrate on this chemistry.
SARAH: Why, are you thinking about the draft?
LEO: Yeah, and I don’t want to go.
SARAH: I was talking to my old babysitter, and she said you could join a religious group, you know, like the Quakers, and then maybe you don’t have to.
LEO: You mean, be a conscientious objector?
SARAH: Yeah. I guess they ask you a whole bunch of questions.
LEO: Yeah, like, do you object to all wars, and, what would you do if someone killed your mother, that kind of stuff?
SARAH: Well, all you gotta say is, yes, I object, and no, I wouldn’t kill the guy who killed my mother.
LEO: But I don’t know if I believe that.
SARAH: Yeah, but you don’t want to die in Vietnam, do you?
LEO: Well, no.
SARAH: Then maybe it’s a good time to start believing it.
(DWIGHT enters, out of breath).
DWIGHT: Hey guys! There’s a riot down on Miffland! People are throwing rocks! They’ve taken over Witte Hall! Come on!
SARAH: But what about Chemistry class?
DWIGHT: Ah, forget Chemistry class! What can the teacher do?
LEO: Well, I’m sick of Chemistry anyway. Let’s go!
(All leave, PROTESTERS and POLICEMAN enter)

POLICEMAN: Stand back! Stand back!
PROTESTER #1: heck no, we won’t go! US out of Vietnam! US out of Cambodia! Power to the people! Right on!
PROTESTER #2 Stop the discrimination at the university!
PROTESTER #3: Power to the people! Right on! Down with Army Math! Close Army Math!
PROTESTER #4: 1, 2, 3, 4!
POLICEMAN: Get going! Get out of here or I’ll beat you! Now!
KARL: Down with Army Math! University of Wisconsin out of Vietnam! No more war!
DWIGHT: Stop discrimination at the University of Wisconsin! Close down Army Math! No more army recruiters!
DAVID: It’s a revolution! The people are uprising! Down with the system! Down with the government!
POLICEMAN: OK, I’ve had it! Get out of here! Go on! Go home!
(POLICEMAN sets gun out to block the way)
(SARAH puts flower in gun, everyone cheers, POLICEMAN makes angry face)

(back in classroom)(SARAH, DWIGHT, & LEO sit together)
LEO: Boy, this Chemistry is hard!
DAVID: It’s better than getting drafted, isn’t it?
LEO: It’s not helping me. I got number 52, I’m probably going in September.
SARAH: This draft is so sexist. They only call up men.
LEO: Believe me, you don’t want to get drafted. Who wants to die?
DAVID: (sarcastically) What’s the matter, don’t you believe the government line….that we’re fighting communism? That we need to help the South fight the north to stop the evils of communism?
LEO: I don’t believe it.
DAVID: Neither do I.
SARAH: It’s so obvious that they’re lying.
DAVID: (staring at book) Hey, far out. Do you realize that with this fertilizer, and what it’s made of, you could make a bomb?
SARAH: Really? Let me see that!

(JOE is alone at a table. SARAH and LEO knock on door. JOE answers)
JOE: Yes?
SARAH: We are interested in joining the Quaker church.
JOE: Quaker meeting, you mean?
LEO: Yes. You see, well, I was drafted, and, well, uh, um….
JOE: You are thinking of CO status?
LEO: Yes, exactly. You see, my classmate might go to Canada, and I have a friend who shot off his toe, and those choices just didn’t seem right…
JOE: Well, come on in.
LEO: Isn’t it true that you object to all wars?
JOE: Some of us do. Yes, in general, that’s true.
SARAH: So you’re nonviolent? Does that mean you wouldn’t throw a rock at the university? or the bank?
JOE: Like they’ve been doing out here on State Street? No, I wouldn’t, probably.
LEO: But they’re the system. The government. It’s their war. And Army Math is helping them out. Army Math and the University of Wisconsin are helping the government by doing research in deadly chemicals. Killing civilians in Vietnam.
JOE: Look, this isn’t easy for me. I teach at the university. I care what my university does and who gets killed as a result. All I can say is, when they protest Army Math, I’m out there. But when they throw rocks, I’m not throwing rocks. You have to think about what’s right. When you do violence, you become part of the problem.
SARAH: But don’t you think it’s necessary to do SOMETHING to get them to stop? Do you think they’ll listen if we just keep carrying signs and yelling?
JOE: When you resort to violence, you make the problem worse. There are non-violent ways of resisting the war and the university.
LEO: So how do you join this meeting and become a conscientious objector?
JOE: Well, it’s a long process, actually, and the first step is believing in your heart that this is what you want. You won’t really hold up if you don’t.
LEO: What do you mean?
JOE: What I mean is, if you are going through the process, and you have violence in your heart, it will show up eventually. You won’t be able to hide it.
SARAH: Thank you, Mr. Elder.
JOE: Call me Joe.
SARAH: We’ll be back soon. Or Leo will, maybe.
JOE: I hope so.
(they leave. NEWSCASTER enters)
NEWSCASTER: Four students were killed today in Kent, Ohio, when the Ohio National Guard shot at a group of students who were confronting them as part of the continuing May Day protests against the Vietnam War on the campus of Kent State University. We’ll have a live report from Kent in just a minute. Meanwhile, reports from here in Madison say that students have again taken to the streets…

PROTESTER #1: Down with the war! US out of Cambodia!
PROTESTER #2: Shut down the university! Down with Army Math!
PROTESTER #3: 1, 2, 3, 4! We don’t want to go to war!
PROTESTER #4: 1, 2, 3, 4!
POLICEMAN: OK, I’ve had it. Get going. Get out of here! (waving stick)

KARL: They’re killing us now. We’re in the endgame. Army Math is next.
DWIGHT: What do you mean?
KARL: I mean, this is war. This is revolution. Four students dead in Ohio. We’ll be next. We can’t stand around and take this.
DAVID: So what do you plan to do?
KARL: Army Math. It’s the enemy. It’s time to let them know we mean business. Hey, Dwight, remember the Badger Ordnance Works?
DWIGHT: I remember. That’s why they called us “The New Year’s Gang.” But that was just vandalism.
LEO: You were behind that explosion outside of Baraboo in January?
KARL: Yeah, and the Red Gym and the Primate Research Center, too.
DWIGHT: I wasn’t involved in those.
DAVID: Far out, man! You’ve been making the revolution!
DWIGHT: Hey, guess what. David says we can make a powerful bomb. We just need ammonium nitrate and fuel oil. Ammonium nitrate is just farm chemicals. I’m not exactly sure about the chemistry, though. I wasn’t doing so well in Chemistry.
DAVID: Good thing they cancelled finals, huh? Hey, Leo, you work out at the airport, don’t you?
LEO: Yeah, but I’m not so sure I want to get involved in this.
KARL: We need you, man. Now’s the time. Look, the government, the university, they’re in this together. We need to get together ourselves. Dwight, you know Mom’s yellow Corvair? We’re going to need it. Leo, they’ve got fuel oil out there at the airport. This is a revolution, brother. They’re killing people now. You’re going to have to decide…are you with us, or are you with THEM?
(they leave)

NEWSCASTER: Since the Kent State killings in May, Madison has been non-stop protests. 1800 National Guardsmen and 400 policemen were called then, and the university was shut down, finals were cancelled. Still the riots continue. Ten to fifteen thousand protesters every week.

PROTESTER #1: US out of Cambodia! Stop the war!
PROTESTER #2: Down with Army Math! Stop discrimination! No more ROTC!
PROTESTER #3: Down with the pigs! Down with the pigs!
PROTESTER #4: 1, 2, 3, 4!
POLICEMAN: OK, out of here! Enough! I’ve had it!
(they leave)

(in LAUNDROMAT. LEO is folding laundry. SARAH enters)
SARAH: Leo! I haven’t seen you since spring! Are you doing laundry, too?
LEO: Yeah, I might be leaving in the morning. I’m sure glad they cancelled finals! I was flunking Chemistry!
SARAH: What about the draft? What are you going to do about the draft?
LEO: Go to Canada, maybe. I don’t know.
SARAH: That doesn’t sound like you, Leo, is something bothering you?
LEO: Sarah, I’ll tell you, but you’ve got to promise me you won’t tell anyone.
SARAH: I promise.
LEO: Remember Dwight, our classmate? His brother had a plan to blow up Army Math. They’ve stolen a van and put ammonium nitrate and jet fuel in it. They borrowed their mom’s Corvair to be the getaway car. They wanted me to get the jet fuel, because I work out at the airport.
SARAH: So what’s the problem?
LEO: Well, you remember that Joe guy? I’ve started going to Quaker meeting. And now I’m not so comfortable with what they’re doing.
SARAH: But they’re going to blow the place up at night, aren’t they?
LEO: Yeah. Three in the morning. This morning, Sunday morning.
SARAH: Tonight? Are you going to do it?
LEO: I said I would. All I’ve got to do is unlock the fuel room at the airport. But I can’t do it.
SARAH: Listen, Leo. I think you should. They’ve done all this work, they’ve gotten it all ready. Look at it this way. Army Math is the system. It’s the government. They’re helping out the war. They’re the problem.
LEO: So you think we should do it?
SARAH: Of course! You won’t hurt anybody.
LEO: Well, I don’t know. Another thing is, I might have to leave Madison, go to Canada or something. It’s hard to leave.
SARAH: Leo, you’ve got to do it. Do it for me. I think you should do it.
LEO: But it won’t help anything to blow up that building. It’ll just make everything more violent. There’s been enough violence.
SARAH: Leo, if you don’t do it, I’ll do it. Give me that key.
LEO: OK, you do it. I’ll stay here. I just don’t feel right about it.
SARAH: Well, I’ve got a secret too. You know the chemistry? Well, I got an A in Chemistry. When it came down to it, Dwight and David didn’t know how to do it, but I knew how to do it, and I showed them. So I’m already guilty.
LEO: Really? Well, at least they’re doing it in the middle of the night, so nobody will get hurt, but, somehow I feel like it’s wrong. I know the government is wrong and all, but all of a sudden here I am about to load this van with jet fuel.
SARAH: I’ll take care of the fuel. You wait here. I’ll be back in about an hour.
(LEO puts head down, sleeps, time passes, SARAH returns, breathless)
SARAH: I did it. You’re going to be in trouble, though, you worked there, everyone knows you had the key.
LEO: Sarah, that’s OK. I’m going to Canada anyway, I think.
SARAH: Well, the Armstrongs are bringing their Corvair to your house in about an hour. I just told them that you couldn’t make it to the airport, but that you’d join them when they got to your house. I figured you could get lost with them, I think they might be going to Canada too. You’d better get going.
LEO: Sarah, there’s something I meant to tell you.
LEO: Well, I know it’s not going to work out and all, and, I’ll probably be leaving town, but, I, uh, I kind of like you…
SARAH: This can’t be happening (crying)…Leo, you’ve got to go! They’ll be waiting! (LEO leaves)
(SARAH cries, puts head down, sleeps, is woken up by STEPHANIE)
STEPHANIE: Sarah, what are you doing here?
SARAH: I was doing my laundry. I must have fallen asleep.
STEPHANIE: It’s 3:20 in the morning!
SARAH: Well, what are YOU doing here?
STEPHANIE: We’re leaving for vacation, as soon as Robert finishes up some research work on superconductivity. He’s in his office finishing up his physics research now. And I’m doing the laundry so we can leave.
SARAH: Where are the children?
STEPHANIE: They’re asleep. My parents are up there, helping with them.
SARAH: Wait a minute, where did you say your husband is working?
STEPHANIE: Sterling Hall. You know, the same building that Army Math is in…
SARAH: Oh, my god…
(SARAH gets a look of horror on her face….but loud explosion is heard in background and both get up and run)
NEWSCASTER: An explosion destroyed Sterling Hall last night and damaged 26 other buildings on the University of Wisconsin campus. Pieces of a stolen van were found on top of an 8-story building nearby. One man, Robert Fassnacht, a graduate student in physics, was inside the building at the time and was killed. He left behind a wife and three children. Four men are believed responsible for the bombing. Police are looking for Karl Armstrong, his brother Dwight Armstrong, Leo Burt, and David Fine. They are believed to be heading for Canada.
(Years later….sign says 1974)
POLICEMAN: Things have gotten pretty quiet around here, since that bombing. They don’t riot like they used to. Those brothers, they found them in Canada, after a couple of years. They found David Fine in California. They never found Leo Burt, who knows what happened to him? But hey, I’ll tell you, the bombing kind of stopped the protests. They just stopped. And a while after that, the government ended the war, too. Things change, you know. But you know what? I’ll never say that those days were the good old days. Never.